Iím an investigative reporter who likes to write. Iíve won a Pulitzer Prize for newspaper work; an Edgar Award for Scoreboard, Baby, a book co-authored with Nick Perry; and the John Chancellor Award from Columbia University for lifetime achievement. This is what happens when you become AARP-eligible.
WHO: I work at the Seattle Times and, when time and publishers permit, write books. Two kids, one cat, one turtle, four fish. One wife. Met in Idaho Ė me, night cops (3-11), her, copy desk (4Ėmidnight), town, small. Her options were few.
WHERE: Iíve worked in Alamosa, Colo. (sports and courts Ė top that for a beat); Twin Falls, Idaho (cops); Escondido, Calif. (courts, city hall); New York City (whatever); Anchorage, Alaska (whatever, including a guy named Captain Sticky, who Iíd rather forget); Newport News, Va. (courts); Chicago (legal affairs) and Seattle (I-team Ė like the A-Team, without muscles, copters, combat and adventure). Two of the papers no longer exist. Don't blame me. Blame the series of tubes, to quote the dead senator from Alaska. Iíve also been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and the McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton.
WHAT: At the Chicago Tribune I investigated misconduct by prosecutors, coerced confessions, and fault lines radiating through the systems of capital punishment in Illinois and Texas. In Seattle I delved into hundreds of illegally sealed court files and the community's complicity in protecting wayward athletes. In Idaho I wrote about a woman who mooned the police.
WHEN: I grew up in Ohio, France, Germany, New Mexico and Indiana; graduated from Purdue in 1985; dropped out of law school at the University of Chicago in 1986; and dropped out of the Peace Corps in Mauritania, West Africa, in 1987. In years past, journalism welcomed dropouts. I went into journalism.
WHY: Because newspaper stories make a difference. In Washington, a series with Mike Berens about the MRSA pathogen spurred new laws requiring surprise hospital inspections and the screening of high-risk patients. In Virginia, stories with Bob Evans led to a police chief's firing and nine officers being disciplined. In Chicago, a death-penalty series with Steve Mills helped prompt the Illinois governor to suspend executions and empty Death Row. Five inmates profiled in that series were later freed; they were pardoned based on innocence or had the charges against them dropped.
HOW: At the Chicago Tribune, I fashioned a set of queries that turned up 381 homicide convictions that had been reversed because prosecutors concealed evidence pointing to innocence or knowingly used false evidence. One query, entered into a legal database, was:
Date aft 1962 and (homicide or murder! or manslaughter) and (brady pre/ 3 maryland) or lexcite (373 U.S. 83) or ((napue pre/ 3 illinois) or lexcite (360 U.S. 264) or (giglio pre/ 3 united states) or lexcite (405 U.S. 150)) or ((use! / 3 perjur! or false) or (correct! / 3 perjur! or false) or (uncorrect! / 3 perjur! or false)).
Abby Mann, a movie producer and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, flirted with making a movie about the work that Steve and I did in Chicago on the death penalty. He invited us to a fancy hotel suite, turned on a tape recorder and said: Tell me how you did it. I told him: We pulled all of these records, file after file Ö we filled in all of these boxes on a hand-drawn spreadsheet, box after box Ö we tallied up all our findings, number after number Ö Mannís eyes glazed over. His mind drifted away. It drifted away to a place where reporters do gloriously cinematic things, like hold clandestine meetings with code-named sources in shadowy parking garages. The movie never got made. Had Mann stayed longer, I would have told him about my queries of legal databases. Maybe that would have made the difference.